It’s not often that refugee friends, volunteers, staff, families and friends are actually all in the same space celebrating. However, the Advent Service 2022 provided the perfect occasion to bring all of the JRS community together in the setting of the beautiful Jesuit church at Farm Street in Mayfair. This year we were treated to something that our friends have been preparing for months, a fresh and original drama performance. None of us knew what to expect, though we knew that lots of work had gone into its preparation in the Creative Writing Group workshops during the last term. We were looking forward to it with a heightened interest and anticipation, and we were not disappointed!
The dramatisation of JRS’s Creative Writing group produced a unique and captivating piece of theatrical art on the theme of “Waiting”. In their workshops over the past months, the group created characters which they explored as a group and then crafted beautiful, powerful poetry from the heart, which in turn they transformed into an act comprising recital and movement. The coordination between each of the actors and the movement as a whole was a testimony to the solidarity and collaboration of the group. Whilst the topic was a serious one, with clear messages about living life in limbo as a refugee currently in the UK, there was an undercurrent and sense of the fun and joy that they had shared in the process of creating something new together, which they could perform to a wider audience. It was a beautiful, powerful moment which spoke of the depth, dignity and suffering of each one, and it will stay with us. The group was facilitated by Laila Sumpton and Beth Organ, you can read more about the process on our previous blog.
Apart from the lustily sung traditional carols accompanied by excellent organ playing, inspiring homily, beautiful readings and intercessory prayers, we were able to able to gather for the traditional mulled wine and mince pies afterwards, for the first time since before the pandemic. There was much laughter and chat as everyone mingled and enjoyed seeing people in the flesh rather than on a computer screen. Everyone helped to make it a really smooth event – and that sense of collaboration and team made it even more enjoyable.
Contemplating the joy of Christmas was the theme put to us by Fr Damian Howard SJ, Provincial of the Jesuits in Britain who presided the service. The joy of gazing at a new-born baby, who is God incarnate, dispels the fear that we might feel as we conjure in our imagination a portrayal of God as powerful, able to control, punish and destroy. Instead, God comes to us vulnerable and undefended, as a sweet baby. He himself is the gift, and in turn shows us human beings how to be gifts to one another. This is an invitation to be transformed. Fr Damian invited us to turn to look at the person in the pew next to us and ask ourselves: “How is this person a gift for me, and how can I be a gift for them?”. Is this the gift I have yet to unwrap?
So often we are led to regard others as a threat rather than a gift: an ‘other’ whom we should fear and protect ourselves from, draw up our bridges and close our borders. The truth is rather that we are designed for encounter, connection and belonging. We are good news for each other and an opportunity for fulfilment. When governments propose “taking action which is cruel and will create misery for others, we have to stand up and tell the truth that sadism and exclusion will hurt us all” Fr Damian urged us. He reminded us that it’s not ok to be indifferent to people dying at sea, that we really need to care for those who seek our protection. This is our moral obligation.
It was a wonderful Advent Service for everyone and a wonderful occasion to celebrate with our refugee friends. It is also our joy at JRS UK to try to fulfil the calling to stand up and tell the truth, to bear witness to the transformative power of Christmas joy as we journey with our refugee friends and we dream of life together in peace and joy, sharing all the goods of the earth.
Thank you so much to everyone who was able to join and made the event so special!